Social media is inescapable. There is an expectation that a company will have a Facebook page and regular tweets. Companies use Google Ads and follow each other on LinkedIn. In many ways, this use of social media is our way at the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) of insuring transparency – fundamental to sustainability in business and for which there is a strong ethical argument.
CSE undertook research in Silicon Valley, looking for indications of sustainability leadership in Community, Environment, Employees, Supply Chain, Philanthropy and Ethics. Ethics was practiced, based on self-reporting, by 95% of the companies researched. Admirable, but one wonders as to the companies’ definitions of ethics.
Facebook is mired in scandal where users are questioning how much the company knew of the misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytics. Not to pick solely on Facebook, but one also wonders as to the ethical implications of removing 1.5 billion users out of reach of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And, CSE recently reported on how companies need to deal with the Directive on Non-financial and Diversity Information mandating transparency of social and environmental information when operating in the EU.
Transparency, protection of private data, using ephemeral national cyber boundaries to navigate from choppy to smooth waters – how will this play in the Sustainability world? Perhaps an easier question is does anyone care? While there certainly was a drop in Facebook value around the scandal (much of it recovered) and a reported 1 out of 10 users in North America deleted their accounts, there has been no appreciable change in monthly active users.
CSE trainings focus heavily on materiality. We address the practical use of resources to report on sustainability issues most relevant to the organization, following criteria established by GRI and assessment based on stakeholder engagement.
That answers the question of what organizations MUST do to effectively pursue sustainability and report their efforts. But, what is it that companies SHOULD do?
At CSE, the E stands for Excellence. For companies to achieve Excellence they must go beyond the expected. They must take a holistic view that brings all the SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals) in house. The ethical ideals of the goals use words such as quality and equality, decent, peace, justice, responsible and partnerships.
We hope that social media, all the many platforms, grow beyond the material and toward the intrinsic ethical considerations which are ever changing. Can we move from a mindset based on Growth to one based on Ethics? Our research shows that a culture of transparency is an important enabler. We hope more organizations embrace it rather than work around it.